Friday, December 4, 2009

Playing in the World Series Every Year

Last time I wrote about players who homered in their only at-bat of a World Series. This time I want to look at something a little more common but also a little more luck-based: players who played in the World Series every year of their careers. This list is twice as long as the previous one, with twelve men who can claim to have done it.

You probably haven't heard of any of these players unless you're a diehard, and even then it's still highly possible that you haven't. When I looked at the B-R Bullpen to learn more about them though, I was surprised at how interesting so many of these guys were. Would you like to meet them? Allow me to introduce you.

1. Babe Towne, 1906 Chicago White Sox

There isn't much information out there about Towne. He was a catcher purchased from the minor leagues mid-season, and his 14 games played are the fewest of anyone on this list. In only 43 plate appearances he put up an OPS+ of 113, best of anyone on this list. He was one of five catchers employed by the Hitless Wonders.

2. Hinkey Haines, 1923 New York Yankees

Outfielder Haines was on the Yankees' roster all year but only got into 28 games. The interesting about him is that he was also an NFL running back who won a league championship with the Giants in 1927, making him the only player to win a national championship in both baseball and football.

3. Joe Martina, 1924 Washington Senators

"Oyster Joe" played 21 seasons in the minors and spent only 1924 in the Majors. He was 34 by the time he finally reached the bigs and 42 by the time he finally pitched his last professional game. He's second in minor league history in both wins and strikeouts.

4. Tommy Taylor, 1924 Washington Senators

Taylor, like his teammate Martina, had a long minor league career. I'm not sure what the story is, but he didn't get his start in professional baseball until 1920, when he was 27 years old, and he was 31 when Washington acquired him as their backup third baseman. Also like Martina, he hung around in the minors until his 40's.

5. Jimmy Moore, 1930-31 Philadelphia Athletics

Moore, whose Baseball Reference page was once proudly sponsored by this blog, is the only player on this list to play more than one year in the Majors. I'm actually surprised. With all the consecutive pennant streaks enjoyed by various teams I would've thought it'd be a more common occurrence. He's also the only one to play for multiple Major League teams, as he began 1930 with the White Sox. The Sox sent him back to the minors early in the season, but the Athletics picked him up in September and he hit .380 for them down the stretch in a backup outfielder role. He spent most of 1931 with the big club, and according to the Bullpen, he misplayed a Ski Melillo flyball that season which turned into a run-scoring double and cost Lefty Grove his 17th straight victory (August 23 appears to be the date). I haven't been able to find out much else about Moore, but what little I have found suggests that he was a flashy character. There are references to him buying fancy clothes and being a particularly handsome fellow, and the nickname "Hollywood Jim Moore" is occasionally used.

6. Johnny Sturm, 1941 New York Yankees

Sturm spent most of his lone season as the Yankees' regular first baseman. His 58 OPS+, however, didn't make anyone forget Lou Gehrig. Sturm enlisted in the military for 1942, and various injuries kept him from returning to the Majors after World War II ended. Sturm's biggest contribution to the Yankees actually came off the field; scout Tom Greenwade was unimpressed the first time he saw Mickey Mantle, but Sturm convinced Greenwade to give The Mick a second look. The rest was history: Hall-of-Fame, 18-year-career, 172-OPS+ history.

7. Bob Maier, 1945 Detroit Tigers

Maier started out as the Tigers' regular third baseman, but he lost his starting job after Hank Greenberg returned from the war and left fielder Jimmy Outlaw was moved to the hot corner to accommodate him. Though he was only 30 years old, 1945 proved to be Maier's final season in professional baseball; he held out next year in Spring Training and never resurfaced.

8. Johnny Rutherford, 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers

"Doc" Rutherford spent the entire 1952 season in the bigs, where he was used as both a starter and a relief pitcher. Arm troubles forced him to retire at the age of 30, and he devoted his post-playing days to a career as an actual doctor (an osteopathic surgeon to be precise).

9. Ken Hunt, 1961 Cincinnati Reds

This one's interesting. Hunt's career minor league ERA was 5.21, and he was done by the age of 26. It seems he only reached the Majors on the strength of a 16-6, 2.86 ERA 1960 season. He didn't do too badly in the Majors, putting up a 103 ERA+ as a fourth starter for the Reds and being named NL Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News. It seems he was truly at the peak of his abilities for his lone year in the bigs.

10. Don LeJohn, 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers

He was a 31-year-old minor league veteran third baseman when the Dodgers called him up midseason. Sounds awfully similar to Tommy Taylor, doesn't it? LeJohn entered the Dodger organization in 1954, when they were still in Brooklyn, and he remained in their employ as a minor league manager for almost 20 years after his playing career ended.

11. Jim Barbieri, 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers

Barbieri holds a cool distinction: He was the first player to play in both the Little League and Major League World Series. As captain of his Little League team, he even got to throw out the first pitch at Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. The outfielder was having a career year in 1966 when the Dodgers called him up for his only Major League action, and his OPS+ in 92 plate appearances was 101. He played in the minors for three more years before moving to Japan for one season in 1970.

12. Willie Canate, 1993 Toronto Blue Jays

The speedy Venezuelan Canate was used mainly as a pinch runner and backup outfielder in his brief stint with the Jays. His minor league stats end in 1995, when his given age was 23, though he may in fact have been five years older. He moved on to the Mexican League after his minor league career ended.

Note the Gap

This phenomenon has occurred only once in the last 40 years. Why is that? My theory is expansion. With more organizations in the mix, borderline players have more opportunities to catch on somewhere. Will we ever see it happen again? Your guess is as good as mine. It's rare that a player with no staying power in the bigs makes it to a postseason roster these days, and it's even rarer for that player to get off the bench in the World Series. I won't be surprised if we do see another player join this group one day, but it might take a perfect storm of circumstances.

This post was updated on November 6, 2011.

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